Much of the discussion about big-name free agents the Cubs should go after has centered around pitching, specifically Jon Lester (though other names have been mentioned, too).
Another free agent who will have a significant impact on any team that signs him is Russell Martin, the catcher who has helped lead the Pirates to two straight postseason berths as a wild card. It's been said that Martin gets credit for helping work with a young pitching staff to make them better; the Pirates have had one of the better staffs in the league the last two years, including having excellent late-inning relievers.
I bring this up now because today ESPN's Buster Olney, in an ESPN Insider column ($), says this:
For any team prepared to solve its catching position for years to come, Martin is the only option among the free agents. And there is a chance that at least two teams with major payroll flexibility -- the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers -- could be in the running for Martin, who is already coveted by the Pirates.
There's no specific links in that article to the Cubs and Martin, simply Olney's speculation, the way I read it. He very well could wind up back in Pittsburgh, but then there's this:
The Yankees loved Martin and his passion for the game, and part of the reason Martin has been valued by the Pirates is his leadership, which could make him even more attractive to the Cubs as they integrate their wave of young players into their roster mix. So how much money will this mean for Martin? Some executives and agents believe that he will get a four-year deal from some team, in the range of $13-15 million per year. History will work against him, to some degree: There have been numerous examples of catchers who hit a physical wall between the ages of 32 and 34, as years of work take their toll. But Martin's strong physical condition and his athleticism could play in his favor, because at the back end of his next contract, he could be used at other positions. Some executives and agents believe the tipping point for Martin will be whether he gets a four-year offer instead of a three-year offer, while others think it will come down to a question of whether a team bids five years, instead of four. After canvassing the opinions, here's my guess: Martin winds up with something in the range of four years for about $50-60 million.
Though Welington Castillo has been a serviceable starting catcher for the last two years, he doesn't seem to be the kind of guy who can take that "next step" and be the catcher who can guide a pitching staff through a playoff race. Martin has done that seven times -- yes, he's been in the postseason seven of his nine big-league seasons.
Four years at $50 million seems like a lot of money, and the caveat mentioned by Olney -- Martin's age at the end of the deal -- could be a factor in signing a guy like this.
The Cubs seem awash in money and wanting to contend. Here's a player that could very well help them do that. I think I'd do it. Your turn.